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Archive for October, 2011

It’s Halloween

It’s Halloween.

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Lonely Crafty Squirrel

Lonely Crafty Squirrel.

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When I knew I was coming to England, I thoight it would be interesting to visit one of the local vineyards of Hampshire.  The one I chose is situated on the rolling Southdowns of Hampshire  just behind Portsmouth and not far from the place where Eisenhower, Churchill and Montgomery laid their plans for D Day.  Tucked away down a typical English leafy lane, small and crammed to the gunwales with their wines but very busy getting their orders out.

As I arrived after the harvest, the machinery; de-stalker, press, conveyor belt etc.,  had been cleaned and was now waiting to be put away for another year.  But I was able to see into the small building where the vats stood. It was a bit like being let loose in a grown ups world but without one being there.   Opposite was the bottling room with its racks of bottles waiting to be labeled then racked plus boxes of their wines being prepared for delivery to customers.  In a steel cage were some of the pink sparkling wine waiting their turn in the process. The staff here were very helpful and informative.

So here is a short history and story of English wine both normal and Sparkling, born out of the Romans love for it.

The history of wine making in England began when the Romans arrived.  They found they could grow grapes in this strange country, and as we know from history how fond of wine they were, the logical step was to make it so they did.  The proof that wine was being made here by the Romans, was found during the early 1980’s, when some Roman wine containers were discovered on the site of the vineyard. It was one of the reasons why the Wickham Vineyard was created, so when in 1984 after further investigations into the suitability of the area were carried out, 6 acres of vines were planted. This has since increased to 18 acres and as there are 40 acres in a total I understand that further planting is in the planning stage.

You can almost imagine the Romans making their way towards London from Portsmouth stopping off to sample some of the excellent local wine before continuing their journey.

English history was as perverse as anything so when, as history informs us, Henry the 8th decided the monasteries had too much wealth and power he destroyed them, unfortunately in doing so the art of English wine making declined as well. But it is thanks to one or two of the aristocracy the vineyards did not completely die out. Plus King Charles the 2nd was hiding in this area on his flight to France, who knows he might have tasted the wine whilst waiting for his boat and escape.

In 1984 Wickham vineyard was planted by John and Caroline Charnley, and thus began a small but busy vineyard making sparkling wine alongside reds, whites and beer.

The vineyard is planted on gentle south-facing slopes, a necessity in the northern hemisphere. There is a large English oak tree in the centre, standing like a natural guardian over the vines.  These are encouraged to grow upwards before they extend their shoots like arms which drape gracefully downwards allowing the grapes to hang like earrings from elegant ladies. This system is called the Geneva Double Curtain, which is perfect for growing vines that are of low yield,  because it can increase the yield by around 50%.   Having visited this vineyard when we lived in England I have memories of the grapes ripening on the vines.

As you can see from these pictures the bottling and shed is packed to capacity.  The bottles waiting in the metal rack have had yeast added then a bottle cap is used to seal them whilst the process continues. They are then tipped so that the bubble can be drawn after which they are topped up, corked, labeled ready for storage and sale as sparkling wine.

Opposite this area is another building which contains the vats and other equipment for the processing of the wine, whilst outside we found boxes of wine on their pallets ready for despatch.

There is as with all vineyards and Cellers a shop which sells their products and a wide range there is too.  The red wines are just as I like them not to dry, but perfectly balanced for sipping, although I think they would complement a meal nicely.  As you can see from these awards the wines are doing very well and helping to promote English wine.

I have to say that these are not handed out willy nilly, so the fact that there are 5 on the shop wall dictates that here is some fine English wine, worthy of investigation.  I will add though, that since I live in a wine growing region the pleasure I get is from sipping wine.  I look at it like this; if I can sit and sip a wine that is to my pallet’s liking it is good.  If it is a little drier than I personally like, then drunk with a meal it will be fine.  And yes, I think that Wickhams Sparkling Wine can give Champagne a run for its Euro’s.

This vinyard grows 10 different varieties of grape including Pinot Noir, Triomphe, Dornfelder, and Rondo, are used for the reds, whilst the white is made from Reischensteiner, Wurtzer, Kerner,  Bacchus, Faber, and Schoenburger.  The soil here is a mixture of chalk, gravel and clay, ideal for growing vines because of the excellent drainage plus mineral content, and is the same soil as the Champagne region, hence it’s perfect for their sparkling wine.

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The End Is Nigh!

The End Is Nigh!.

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Slippery Grease Or Slippery Greece.

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This is my big medical visit, when I have my blood test and check up so I use it to visit the family.  We drove up to London to see my sister going round the M25 then into London via the Blackwall Tunnel.  As we came out of the tunnel and headed towards Leyton the olympic site could be seen on the right hand side.

They are getting on with the building very well, even if the sculpture is a bit bazar looking at the moment, with lots of red steel and what looks like the start of three viewing platforms.  So the next morning when my sister mentioned the Westfield Shopping Mall, the biggest in Europe,  I suggested to the delight of my wife that we took a look, I did not expect what I found.

As a boy growing up around this area places I knew had disappeared to be replaced with a new housing development for the athletes, and very smart they look too, a sort of modern ‘White City’ only 100 yrs on.  These flats are white, modern and look well designed.

There is also a brand new Stratford station which brings the Euro Train into the site and East London, so there is easy access for trips to France, which will no doubt bring in plenty of visitors.

The car park was reached via a spiral ramp which took us to the first level parking with spectacular views of the athletes flats. There is a ‘wall’ of safety meshing round each level but your view is not obscured.  On the floor you will find a ‘path’ marked in pink which takes you to one of the two exits down to the shops.

Two escalators later we found ourselves in the mall.  It is bright, spacious and packed with lots of shops and three floors high.  There are seats scattered around for those who are pooped from shopping to sit, or bars of all types, food, champagne, sushi, tapas, with an icecream bar where the icecream is shaped like a rose, and plenty of coffee bars.

We wandered off towards John Lewis which is at one end of that level, camera in hand (well in my wifes hands) taking pictures. In John Lewis we discovered they have a viewing platform, well it is an area where you have a clear view of the olympic site and the ‘Gherkin’ through large clear windows, plus seats for those who just want to sit, stare and take it all in.   The store was being decked out for Christmas with displays dotted here and there.

My sister and I went to have a coffee whilst my wife went off to take a few pictures of the shops and an exhibition of skateboarding.  Then  she joined us for her coffee, after which we went down to the next level and Primart.  This is one of her favourite shops, shopping done she went to que up, my sister and I thought, from the length of the que, that we were in for a long wait, but this branch had it all worked out, fifteen tills, all open and working the que fairly flew along.

Then back up to the top-level where we wandered back the way we came, and headed home.  We had been around 3 hrs and no, we had not covered all of it.  There were so many things to see, so many walkways to go down it was impossible in the time we had to cover more than we did.  But if you are in London take a day and go see, it really is well worth the visit.

And Lewis?

Oh yes if you do go, you will probably meet PC Lewis and his WPC partner to whom I must apologise for not getting her name, and say a big thank you for letting my wife take their picture and being so polite.

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Kill The Mit

Kill The Mit.

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